Foreign object in the ear: First aid

If left untreated, a foreign object in the ear can cause pain, infection and hearing loss.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

A foreign object in the ear can cause pain, infection and hearing loss. Usually you know if an object is stuck in your ear, but small children may not be aware of it.

If an object becomes lodged in the ear:

  • Don't probe the ear with a tool such as a cotton swab or matchstick. You risk pushing the object farther in and damaging the ear.
  • Remove the object if possible. If the object is clearly visible, pliable and can be grasped easily with tweezers, gently remove it.
  • Try using gravity. Tilt the head to the affected side to try to dislodge the object.
  • Try using oil for an insect. If the foreign object is an insect, tilt the person's head so that the ear with the insect is upward. Try to float the insect out by pouring mineral oil, olive oil or baby oil into the ear. The oil should be warm, but not hot. Don't use oil to remove an object other than an insect. Don't use this method for a child if ear tubes are in place or if you think the eardrum may be perforated. Signs and symptoms of a perforated eardrum are pain, bleeding or discharge from the ear.
  • Try washing the object out. Use a rubber-bulb ear syringe and warm water to irrigate the object out of the canal, again provided no ear tubes are in place and you don't suspect the eardrum is perforated.

If these methods fail or the person continues to experience pain, discharge from the ear canal, reduced hearing or a sensation of something lodged in the ear, seek medical assistance.

Sept. 12, 2017